Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

How does the ritualist conceptualize the educational elements around the brit milah process?
by Wasser, Eric L., Ed.D., The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 2013, 222; 3567685
Abstract (Summary)

How does the ritualist conceptualize the educational elements of the brit milah process?

Jewish educators function in diverse roles and venues. Teachers formally instruct in classroom settings, camp counselors informally teach in the bunk or dining hall and clergy teach about our Jewish tradition by carefully planning experiential education programs, preaching from the bimah (podium), chanting from the lectern and carrying on their daily activities in synagogues. In accord with an expansive vision of Jewish education, I suggest that ritualists too, through language and action, teach fundamental aspects of Jewish life as they interact with others in the context of guiding families through life-cycle events.

This dissertation examines the interactions of the ritual leader or circumciser referred to as the mohel during the life-cycle rite of passage of ritual circumcision or brit milah. I examine the mohel's educational work by describing his interactions with celebrant families and their guests before, during and after the ritual ceremony. After reviewing aspects of ritual theory and educational theory, I employ Schwab's four commonplaces of education as the lens through which to determine how ritual affects pedagogy and, as a corollary, how pedagogy is affected by ritual structure. This study explores the conceptualizations of seven prominent mohalim, three of whom were studied in-depth over a seven month period. I used a mixed methods qualitative research approach by conducting in-depth interviews, observing mohalim in their natural settings and conducting follow-up interviews. In addition to material gathered from these interviews, data collection included field notes, transcription recordings and artifact collection.

The data analysis shows that mohalim employ a number of teaching styles and orientations and accommodate multiple meanings during the brit milah process. Additionally, through their interactions, mohalim implicitly teach about both ritual structure and Judaism in general.

A conclusion of the research shows that both through their actions and use of ritual language, it is the educational goal of mohalim to present and communicate a vision of Judaism as a morally sound way of life, and that by fostering feelings of connectedness, to family, generations, spiritual ancestors, community, the people of Israel, or the heritage of Judaism, people's lives become imbued with great meaning and significance. As two practical implications of the study, I propose nine pedagogic principles of ritual engagement and the expansion of collegial interaction which may serve as useful tools for mohalim as they become more reflective regarding their educational responsibilities. Additionally, this work implies a new way to orient the educational thinking of ritualists in general as they approach their work as a potentially transformative experience found along a continuum of Jewish encounters with celebrant families.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kress, Jeffrey
Commitee: Diamond, Eliezer, Epstein, Shira, Tauber, Sarah, Walton, Janet
School: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America
Department: William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 74/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Religious education, Judaic studies
Keywords: Brit milah, Circumcision, Education, Mohel, Ritual
Publication Number: 3567685
ISBN: 9781303197505
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